Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Value of a Dollar (and a Beard)

From time to time, we all feel ripped off. Whether it’s a sleazy car salesman selling you a lemon, or furniture on Craigslist which turns out to be scratched and reeking of smoke, or the online date who hasn’t updated his profile picture since 1999, everyone can relate to being so angered by a raw deal that you just want to forcibly remove the scammer’s facial hair and make him eat it.

Wait...maybe we can’t all relate to that last part. But that’s exactly what happened last November to Harvey Westmoreland, a Kentucky man who just wanted to sell his lawnmower to neighbors Troy Holt and James Hill. But when their negotiations broke down, an intoxicated Holt and Hill held Westmoreland and his brother at knifepoint, then cut off Westmoreland’s beard and force-fed it to him. The unusual story made headlines around the country, and before he “knowed” it [sic], Westmoreland’s grammatically-challenged video interview with a local news station became a top hit on YouTube (as did the dance remix).

Both of Westmoreland’s attackers pleaded guilty, and each were sentenced to several years of probation. But Holt now faces the possibility of jail time for failing to also pay Westmoreland court-ordered restitution. Next Tuesday, a judge will determine whether to revoke Holt’s probation over the snub. What’s the going rate for a lost beard these days, you ask? The Anderson County Circuit Court priced Westmoreland’s ordeal at $570.

It may seem strange to assign a dollar value to facial hair (or the pain and suffering of eating it), but courts and juries must often calculate the value of unusual things: trademarked phrases, missing limbs, and even law degrees. While the Goodson Blogson isn’t sure how this Kentucky court decided on $570, it does know some resources where you can find guidance on valuing other injuries: jury verdict reporters and valuation handbooks.

A popular choice is the book series What’s it Worth? (KF1257 .H3 & online in LexisNexis). This series is sorted into chapters by injury type, and provides brief case summaries along with jury award or settlement amounts. A number of other damage valuation handbooks, like Personal Injury Verdict Reviews, are not available in print by the Goodson Law Library, but can be searched in LexisNexis and Westlaw. On Lexis, follow the link on the Legal tab to “Expert Analysis, Jury Verdicts and Settlements” to view available databases. In Westlaw’s directory, follow the path: Litigation > Jury Verdicts, Settlements & Judgments.

Jury verdicts and settlements are also often reported in legal news sources, such as the New York Law Journal (available online via the library) and other American Legal Media (ALM) publications, which recently moved their full text from Westlaw to LexisNexis (although the library maintains separate web-based passwords to selected ALM titles, which are described in the online catalog records for each).

To learn more about researching jury verdicts and settlement amounts, visit that section of our Court Records and Briefs research guide, or Ask a Librarian.